Thought leadership

Here, we consider thought leadership: what it is, what it involves and how it can benefit both your organisation and you personally.

In the knowledge economy, differences between brands and their offerings can be hard to visualise.

Thought leadership is now one of the key areas where organisations and individuals can project their individuality through their unique insights and innovative approaches to industry trends, developments and emerging stories.

Thought leadership: let your star shine

In the developed world, almost all economies are knowledge economies. By knowledge economies, we mean those economies that are largely dependent on human capital and intangible assets such as proprietary technology. *

And by human capital, we refer in part to people’s knowledge, skills, education, creativity and problem-solving skills.

All of which means that in the modern world, the ability to establish yourself as a thought leader can be very valuable, both for your organisation and you personally.

Why the focus on thought leadership?

Across many industries, business are striving to differentiate themselves from their rivals. This is as true in service industries as it is in sectors such as manufacturing. Pricing, branding, quality and innovation are all part of the differentiation battle field.

In more recent years, however, thought leadership has emerged as a key signifier of difference.

A successful thought leader is someone who has built themselves a reputation as an expert in their field. Thought leaders are sought out for their unique, innovative and valuable insights into events and trends in their industry.

In sectors where product and/or service provision vary little between providers, a thought leader’s individual ‘take’ on a development can boost theirs and their organisation’s reputation and image.

As such, they are the people likely to shape the future direction of not just their employers, but their sector as a whole.

Thought leadership channels

There’s no shortage of communication channels to share your opinions and insights as a thought leader. Your options include:

  • Writing: through blog posts to articles in trade journals, written work can reach a wide audience and raise your personal profile. Many thought leaders go further and publish white papers, and even books;
  • Speaking: speaking slots at industry conferences and events are a great way to boost your visibility and get your messages heard. Similarly, hosting seminars or webinars for industry peers, colleagues and social media followers will help to consolidate your thought leader status;
  • Social media: platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others have the potential to expand your reach and following globally. They also allow you to interact with followers in real time, giving you constant feedback on your thoughts and ideas; and
  • Research: deep research into your area of interest allows you to build your authority as a thought leader and demonstrate not only thorough knowledge, but also up-to-the minute understanding of your field. This, in turn will give you new material for your writing, speaking and social media activity.

What makes a good thought leader?

Clearly, a keen interest and a deep understanding of your chosen field are your starting points if you’re looking to establish yourself as a thought leader. However, you’ll also need:

  • Great communication skills: you’ll need to be a competent writer and confident public speaker to be taken seriously as a thought leader;
  • Stamina: keeping up a regular schedule of blogs, articles speaking engagements and social media posts can be gruelling, especially when holding down a day job, too. And if your reputation expands overseas, expect to be engaging with people at all times of the day as a matter of routine;
  • The courage of your convictions: whether it’s a written piece or a speaking slot, industry forums normally make provision for a Q&A or comments facility. Expect to be challenged on your assertions from time to time and be ready to defend them; and
  • Coaching/mentoring skills: it’s normal for people to seek out experts in their chosen field to learn from. With that in mind you could look to leverage your thought leader status to design coaching courses or mentoring around your specialist knowledge.

Career benefits of thought leadership

Across all industry, government and non-profit sectors, thought leaders – including in-house lawyers – can boost their career prospects in several ways. These include:

  • By building credibility: as your profile rises in in the eyes of your readers, followers and attendees at your public speaking engagements, so too will your personal brand flourish among your colleagues and senior managers in your organisation;
  • By generating new business: as a thought leader, you’ll naturally raise the profile of your organisation. People attracted to your innovative thinking and original thought will then be more likely to consider doing business with your employer;
  • By making you a credible candidate for a future role: irrespective of the subject you’ve become a thought leader in, employers respect and value a candidate’s ability to build a following, drive change and be seen as a figurehead. It reflects well on organisations when they hire thought leaders.

Closing commentary 

Thought leadership is a worthwhile goal to pursue if you believe you have a stand-out take on what’s happening in your chosen field. You’ll need great communication skills, stamina and a willingness to defend your arguments, however the career benefits of being recognised as a thought leader are highly rewarding.
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